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Years of Stalemate 


Julv 1951-1 ul 



The Korean War was the first major armed clash between Free 
World and Communist forces, as the so-called Cold War turned hot. The 
half-century that now separates us from that conflict, however, has 
dimmed our collective memory. Many Korean War veterans have consid- 
ered themselves forgotten, their place in history sandwiched between the 
sheer size of World War II and the fierce controversies of the Vietnam 
War. The recently built Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National 
Mall and the upcoming fiftieth anniversary commemorative events 
should now provide well-deserved recognition. I hope that this series of 
brochures on the campaigns of the Korean War will have a similar effect. 

The Korean War still has much to teach us: about military prepared- 
ness, about global strategy, about combined operations in a military 
alliance facing blatant aggression, and about the courage and persever- 
ance of the individual soldier. The modern world still lives with the con- 
sequences of a divided Korea and with a militarily strong, economically 
weak, and unpredictable North Korea. The Korean War was waged on 
land, on sea, and in the air over and near the Korean peninsula. It lasted 
three years, the first of which was a seesaw struggle for control of the 
peninsula, followed by two years of positional warfare as a backdrop to 
extended cease-fire negotiations. The following essay is one of five 
accessible and readable studies designed to enhance understanding of 
the U.S. Army's role and achievements in the Korean conflict. 

During the next several years the Army will be involved in many 
fiftieth anniversary activities, from public ceremonies and staff rides to 
professional development discussions and formal classroom training. 
The commemoration will be supported by the publication of various 
materials to help educate Americans about the war. These works will 
provide great opportunities to learn about this important period in the 
Army's heritage of service to the nation. 

This brochure was prepared in the U.S. Army Center of Military 
History by Andrew J. Birtle. I hope this absorbing account, with its list 
of further readings, will stimulate further study and reflection. A com- 
plete listing of the Center of Military History's available works on the 
Korean War is included in the Center's online catalog: . 

Brigadier General, USA 
Chief of Military History 

Years of Stalemate 
July 1951-July 1953 

The first twelve months of the Korean War (June 1950- June 1951) 
had been characterized by dramatic changes in the battlefront as the 
opposing armies swept up and down the length of the Korean peninsula. 
This war of movement virtually ended on 10 July 1951, when represen- 
tatives from the warring parties met in a restaurant in Kaesong to negoti- 
ate an end to the war. Although the two principal parties to the con- 
flict — the governments of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea 
(North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) — were 
more than willing to fight to the death, their chief patrons — the People's 
Republic of China and the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United 
States and the United Nations (UN) on the other — were not. Twelve 
months of bloody fighting had convinced Mao Tse-tung, Joseph V. 
Stalin, and Harry S. Truman that it was no longer in their respective 
national interests to try and win a total victory in Korea. The costs in 
terms of men and materiel were too great, as were the risks that the con- 
flict might escalate into a wider, global conflagration. Consequently, 
they compelled their respective Korean allies to accept truce talks as the 
price for their continued military, economic, and diplomatic support. 

For the soldiers at the front and the people back home, the com- 
mencement of negotiations raised hopes that the war would soon be over, 
but such was not to be. While desirous of peace, neither side was willing 
to sacrifice core principles or objectives to obtain it. The task of finding 
common ground was further complicated by the Communists' philoso- 
phy of regarding negotiations as war by other means. This tactic signifi- 
cantly impeded the negotiations. And while the negotiators engaged in 
verbal combat around the conference table, the soldiers in the field con- 
tinued to fight and die — for two more long and tortuous years. 

Strategic Setting 

The advent of truce talks in July 1951 came on the heels of a suc- 
cessful United Nations offensive that had not only cleared most of South 
Korea of Communist forces but captured limited areas of North Korea 
as well. By 10 July the front lines ran obliquely across the Korean penin- 
sula from the northeast to the southwest. In the east, UN lines anchored 
on the Sea of Japan about midway between the North Korean towns of 
Kosong and Kansong. From there the front fell south to the 
"Punchbowl," a large circular valley rimmed by jagged mountains, 

before heading west across the razor-backed Taebaek Mountains to the 
"Iron Triangle," a strategic communications hub around the towns of 
P'yonggang, Kumhwa, and Ch'orwon. From there the front dropped 
south once again through the Imjin River Valley until it reached the 
Yellow Sea at a point roughly twenty miles north of Seoul. Manning this 
line were over 554,000 UN soldiers — approximately 253,000 Americans 
(including the 1st Marine, 1st Cavalry, and 2d, 3d, 7th, 24th, and 25th 
Infantry Divisions), 273,000 South Koreans, and 28,000 men drawn 
from eighteen countries — Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, 
Ethiopia, France, Great Britain, Greece, India, Luxembourg, the 
Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, 
Turkey, and the Union of South Africa. Facing them were over 459,000 
Communist troops, more than half of whom were soldiers of the 
Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). 

Since the political leaders of the two warring coalitions had sig- 
naled their willingness to halt the fighting, the generals on both sides 
proved reluctant to engage in any major new undertakings. For the 
most part the commander of UN forces, General Matthew B. Ridgway, 
and his principal subordinate, General James A. Van Fleet, Eighth 
Army commander, confined their activities to strengthening UN posi- 
tions and conducting limited probes of enemy lines. Their Communist 
counterparts adopted a similar policy. Consequently, the two sides 
exchanged artillery fire, conducted raids and patrols, and occasionally 
attempted to seize a mountain peak here or there, but for the most part 
the battle lines remained relatively static. 

So too, unfortunately, did the positions of the truce negotiators, 
who were unable to make any progress on the peace front during the 
summer. The chief stumbling block was the inability of the parties to 
agree on a cease-fire line. The Communists argued for a return to the 
status quo ante — that is, that the two armies withdraw their forces to 
the prewar boundary line along the 38th Parallel. This was not an 
unreasonable position, since the combat lines were not all that far from 
the 38th Parallel. The UN, however, refused to agree to a restoration of 
the old border on the grounds that it was indefensible in many places. 
Current UN positions were much more defensible, and a more defensi- 
ble border was clearly advantageous, not only in protecting South 
Korea in the present conflict, but in discouraging future Communist 
aggression. Consequently, UN negotiators argued in favor of adopting 
the current line of contact as the cease-fire line. 

A deadlock immediately ensued, with the Communists employ- 
ing every conceivable artifice to undermine the UN position. They 
argued over every point, large and small, procedural as well as sub- 


stantive, in an effort to wear down the UN negotiators. They hurled 
insults and engaged in hours of empty posturing. They released scur- 
rilous propaganda, staged provocative incidents, and exploited any 
misstep or accident on the part of the UN to their full advantage, all 
in an effort to embarrass, discredit, and entrap the UN negotiators. 
While more restrained in their behavior, the American-led negotiat- 
ing team refused to be intimidated by Communist negotiating tactics. 
When the two sides finally tired of trading accusations, they would 
sit and stare at each other over the conference table in absolute 



The UN Summer/Fall Offensive, July— November 1951 

If the Chinese and North Koreans had hoped to intimidate the 
United Nations into making concessions, they were very much mistak- 
en. Rather than rewarding Communist misbehavior by beseeching the 


enemy to return to the bargaining table, the United Nations Command 
decided to chastise him by launching a limited offensive in the late sum- 
mer and early fall of 1951. Militarily, the offensive was justified on the 
grounds that it would allow UN forces to shorten and straighten sections 
of their lines, acquire better defensive terrain, and deny the enemy key 
vantage points from which he could observe and target UN positions. 
But the offensive also had a political point to make — that the United 
Nations would not be stampeded into accepting Communist proposals. 

Much of the heaviest fighting revolved around the Punchbowl, 
which served as an important Communist staging area. The United 
Nations first initiated limited operations to seize the high ground sur- 
rounding the Punchbowl in late July. By mid-August the battle had 
begun to intensify around three interconnected hills southwest of the 
Punchbowl that would soon be known collectively as Bloody Ridge. 
Three days after the Communists walked out of the Kaesong talks, the 
ROK 7th Division captured Bloody Ridge after a week of heavy com- 
bat. It was a short-lived triumph, for the following day the North 
Koreans recaptured the mountain in a fierce counterattack. Determined 
to wrest the heavily fortified bastion from the Communists, Van Fleet 
ordered the U.S. 2d Infantry Division's 9th Infantry to scale the ridge. 
The battle raged for ten days, as the North Koreans repulsed one 
assault after another by the increasingly exhausted and depleted 9th 
Infantry. Finally, on 5 September the North Koreans abandoned the 
ridge after UN forces succeeded in outflanking it. Approximately 
15,000 North Koreans and 2,700 UN soldiers were killed, wounded, or 
captured on Bloody Ridge's slopes. 

After withdrawing from Bloody Ridge, the North Koreans set up 
new positions just 1,500 yards away on a seven-mile-long hill mass 
that was soon to earn the name Heartbreak Ridge. If anything, the 
enemy's defenses were even more formidable here than on Bloody 
Ridge. Unfortunately, the 2d Division's acting commander, Brig. Gen. 
Thomas de Shazo, and his immediate superior, Maj. Gen. Clovis E. 
Beyers, the X Corps commander, seriously underestimated the 
strength of the North Korean position. They ordered a lone infantry 
regiment — the 23d Infantry and its attached French battalion — to 
make what would prove to be an ill-conceived assault straight up 
Heartbreak's heavily fortified slopes. 

The attack began on 13 September and quickly deteriorated into a 
familiar pattern. First, American aircraft, tanks, and artillery would 
pummel the ridge for hours on end, turning the already barren hillside 
into a cratered moonscape. Next, the 23d's infantrymen would clamber 
up the mountain's rocky slopes, taking out one enemy bunker after 


Bloody Ridge (National Archives) 

another by direct assault. Those who survived to reach the crest 
arrived exhausted and low on ammunition. Then the inevitable coun- 
terattack would come — wave after wave of North Koreans determined 
to recapture the lost ground at any cost. Many of these counterattacks 
were conducted at night by fresh troops that the enemy was able to 
bring up under the shelter of neighboring hills. Battles begun by 
bomb, bullet, and shell were inevitably finished by grenade, trench 
knife, and fist as formal military engagements degenerated into des- 
perate hand-to-hand brawls. Sometimes dawn broke to reveal the 
defenders still holding the mountaintop. Just as often, however, the 
enemy was able to overwhelm the tired and depleted Americans, tum- 
bling the survivors back down the hill where, after a brief pause to 
rest, replenish ammunition, and absorb replacements, they would 
climb back up the ridge to repeat the process all over again. 

And so the battle progressed — crawling up the hill, stumbling 
back down it, and crawling up once again — day after day, night after 
night, for two weeks. Because of the constricting terrain and the nar- 
row confines of the objectives, units were committed piecemeal to the 
fray, one platoon, company, or battalion at a time. Once a particular 


element had been so ground up that it could no longer stand the strain, 
a fresh unit would take its place, and then another and another until the 
23d Infantry as a whole was fairly well shattered. Finally, on 27 
September the 2d Division's new commander, Maj. Gen. Robert N. 
Young, called a halt to the "fiasco" on Heartbreak Ridge as American 
planners reconsidered their strategy. 

The 23d Infantry's failure to capture Heartbreak Ridge had not 
come from a lack of valor. It took extreme bravery to advance up 
Heartbreak's unforgiving slopes under intense enemy fire. And when 
things did not go right, it took equal courage to take a stand so that oth- 
ers might live. One person who took such a stand was Pfc. Herbert K. 
Pililaau, a quiet, six-foot-tall Hawaiian. Pililaau's outfit, Company C, 1st 
Battalion, 23d Infantry, was clinging to a small stretch of Heartbreak's 
ridge top on the night of 17 September when a battalion of North 
Koreans came charging out of the darkness from an adjacent hill. The 
company fought valiantly, but a shortage of ammunition soon compelled 
it to retreat down the mountain. After receiving reinforcements and a 
new issue of ammunition, the Americans advanced back up the ridge. 
North Korean fire broke the first assault, but Company C soon 
regrouped and advanced again, recapturing the crest by dawn. The pen- 
dulum of war soon reversed its course, however, and by midday the men 
of Company C were once again fighting for their lives as the North 
Korean battalion surged back up the hill. Running low on ammunition, 
the company commander called retreat. Pililaau volunteered to remain 
behind to cover the withdrawal. As his buddies scrambled to safety, 
Pililaau wielded his Browning automatic rifle with great effect until he 
too had run out of ammunition. He then started throwing grenades, and 
when those were exhausted, he pulled out his trench knife and fought on 
until a group of North Korean soldiers shot and bayoneted him while his 
comrades looked on helplessly from a sheltered position 200 yards 
down the slope. Determined to avenge his death, the men of Company C 
swept back up the mountain. When they recaptured the position, they 
found over forty dead North Koreans clustered around Pililaau's corpse. 

Pililaau's sacrifice had saved his comrades, and for that a grateful 
nation posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor. Yet his valiant 
act could not alter the tactical situation on the hill. As long as the 
North Koreans could continue to reinforce and resupply their garrison 
on the ridge, it would be nearly impossible for the Americans to take 
the mountain. After belatedly recognizing this fact, the 2d Division 
crafted a new plan that called for a full division assault on the valleys 
and hills adjacent to Heartbreak to cut the ridge off from further rein- 
forcement. Spearheading this new offensive would be the division's 


Heartbreak Ridge (National Archives) 

72d Tank Battalion, whose mission was to push up the Mundung-ni 
Valley west of Heartbreak to destroy enemy supply dumps in the vicin- 
ity of the town of Mundung-ni. 

It was a bold plan, but one that could not be accomplished until a 
way had been found to get the 72d's M4A3E8 Sherman tanks into 
the valley The only existing road was little more than a track that 
could not bear the weight of the Shermans. Moreover, it was heavily 
mined and blocked by a six-foot -high rock barrier built by the North 
Koreans. Using nothing but shovels and explosives, the men of the 
2d Division's 2d Engineer Combat Battalion braved enemy fire to 
clear these obstacles and build an improved roadway. While they 
worked, the division's three infantry regiments — 9th, 38th, and 
23d — launched coordinated assaults on Heartbreak Ridge and the 
adjacent hills. By 10 October everything was ready for the big raid. 
The sudden onslaught of a battalion of tanks racing up the valley 
took the enemy by surprise. By coincidence, the thrust came just 
when the Chinese 204th Division was moving up to relieve the North 
Koreans on Heartbreak. Caught in the open, the Chinese division 
suffered heavy casualties from the American tanks. For the next five 
days the Shermans roared up and down the Mundung-ni Valley, over- 


running supply dumps, mauling troop concentrations, and destroying 
approximately 350 bunkers on Heartbreak and in the surrounding 
hills and valleys. A smaller tank-infantry team scoured the Sat'ae-ri 
Valley east of the ridge, thereby completing the encirclement and 
eliminating any hope of reinforcement for the beleaguered North 
Koreans on Heartbreak. 

The armored thrusts turned the tide of the battle, but plenty of 
hard fighting remained for the infantry before French soldiers captured 
the last Communist bastion on the ridge on 13 October. After a month 
of nearly continuous combat, the 2d Division was finally king of the 
hill. All totaled the division suffered over 3,700 casualties, nearly half 
of whom came from the 23d Infantry and its attached French battalion. 
Conversely, the Americans estimated that they had inflicted 25,000 
casualties on the enemy in and around Heartbreak Ridge. 

While the Punchbowl was the scene of some of the hardest fight- 
ing during the UN's summer-fall offensive, the United Nations was 
not idle elsewhere. Along the east coast South Korean troops suc- 
ceeded in pushing north to the outskirts of Kosong, while in the west 
five UN divisions (ROK 1st, British 1st Commonwealth, and U.S. 
1st Cavalry and 3d and 25th Infantry) advanced approximately four 
miles along a forty-mile-wide front from Kaesong to Ch'orwon, 


thereby gaining greater security for the vital Seoul-Ch'orwon rail- 
way By late October UN operations had succeeded in securing most 
of the commanding ground along the length of the front. The price 
of these gains had not been cheap — approximately 40,000 UN casu- 
alties. Yet the enemy had suffered even more, and the determination 
demonstrated by the United Nations Command in taking the offen- 
sive was probably a key factor in persuading the Communists to 
return to the bargaining table. 

Renewed Talks, Diminished Fighting: The Second Korean Winter, 
November 1951-April 1952 

On 25 October UN and Communist negotiators reconvened the 
truce talks at a new location, a collection of tents in the tiny village of 
P'anmunjom, six miles east of Kaesong. After some sparring, the 
Communists dropped their demand for a return to the 38th Parallel and 
accepted the UN position that the cease-fire line be drawn along the 
current line of contact. In exchange, the UN bowed to Communist 
demands that a truce line be agreed upon prior to the resolution of 
other outstanding issues. To avoid the danger that the Communists 
might stop negotiating once a line had been established, the 
Americans insisted that both sides be permitted to continue fighting 
until all outstanding questions had been resolved. The two sides also 
agreed that the proposed armistice line would only be valid for thirty 
days. Should a final truce not be arrived at within that time, then the 
agreement over the line of demarcation would be invalid. Still, the 
willingness of the United Nations to accept the current line of contact 
as the final line of demarcation between the two Koreas represented a 
significant windfall for the Communists, for it served as a fairly strong 
indicator that the United Nations had no desire to press deeper into 
North Korea. 

The termination of the UN offensive and the resumption of truce 
talks in late October had a noticeably calming effect on the front. On 
12 November Ridgway instructed Van Fleet to assume an "active 
defense." Thereafter, offensive operations were to be limited to those 
actions necessary to strengthen UN lines. When the armistice negotia- 
tors formally embraced the line of demarcation accords on 27 
November, Van Fleet went one step further by prohibiting his subordi- 
nates from initiating any offensive operations other than counterat- 
tacks to recapture ground lost to an enemy attack. The Communists 
likewise refrained from undertaking major actions, and the resulting 
lull gave the United Nations the opportunity to accomplish a major 
change in battlefield lineup. 


Between December 1951 and February 1952 the United States 
withdrew the 1st Cavalry and 24th Infantry Divisions from Korea and 
replaced them with two National Guard formations, the 40th and 45th 
Infantry Divisions. Ridgway had been reluctant to make the swap, 
fearing that the newly trained divisions would not be as effective as 
the two veteran units they were replacing. In fact, the UN commander 
had recommended that the two Guard divisions be kept at their stag- 
ing areas in Japan as a source of individual replacements for the divi- 
sions already in Korea. But Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton 


Collins insisted that the National Guard divisions deploy to Korea 
intact. Not to do so, Collins maintained, would trigger a rancorous 
public debate over the Guard's role and fuel allegations that the Army 
did not trust its own mobilization training system. Fortunately the 
changeover went smoothly, and soon the two new divisions — which 
largely consisted of draftees led by a cadre of National Guardsmen — 
were performing just as well as the Regular units they had replaced, 
units that by this time in the war likewise contained large numbers of 
replacements and draftees. 


P 'anmunjom truce tents (National Archives) 

While the Army realigned its order of battle, the P' anmunjom 
negotiators struggled to finalize the truce agreement in time to meet 
the thirty-day deadline. When they failed in this, they agreed to extend 
the deadline by an additional two weeks, but this deadline also came 
and went without noticeable progress. By this point, however, winter 
had fully set in, making a renewal of major operations problematic at 
best. Raids and patrols continued, if for no other reason than to pre- 
vent inaction from dulling the troops' combat edge, but overall the 
level of combat was minimal. The decline in activity was accompanied 
by a precipitous drop in UN casualties, from about 20,000 during the 
month of October to under 3,000 per month between December 1951 
and April 1952. All in all, the commanders on both sides seemed con- 
tent to sit out the winter and let the negotiators do the heavy fighting. 
And fight they did. 

Although a number of issues separated UN and Communist 
negotiators, the chief stumbling block to the arrangement of a final 
armistice during the winter of 1951-1952 revolved around the 
exchange of prisoners. At first glance, there appeared to be nothing 
to argue about, since the Geneva Conventions of 1949, by which 
both sides had pledged to abide, called for the immediate and com- 
plete exchange of all prisoners upon the conclusion of hostilities. 
This seemingly straightforward principle, however, disturbed many 


Winter in Korea (National Archives) 

Americans. To begin with, UN prisoner-of-war (POW) camps held 
over 40,000 South Koreans, many of whom had been impressed into 
Communist service and who had no desire to be sent north upon the 
conclusion of the war. Moreover, a considerable number of North 
Korean and Chinese prisoners had also expressed a desire not to 
return to their homelands. This was particularly true of the Chinese 
POWs, some of whom were anti-Communists whom the Communists 
had forcibly inducted into their army. Many Americans recoiled at 
the notion of returning such men into the hands of their oppressors, 
and for several months American policymakers wrestled with the 
POW question. 

Acquiescing to a total exchange of prisoners as called for by the 
Geneva Conventions would quickly settle the issue and pave the way 
for a final agreement ending the hostilities. On the other hand, the 
desire of enemy soldiers not to return to their homelands was clearly 
a useful propaganda weapon for the West in the wider Cold War. 


Establishing the right of prisoners to chose their own destinies might 
also pay significant dividends in any future war with the 
Communists, as many enemy soldiers might desert or surrender if 
they knew that they would not be forced to return to their 
Communist-controlled homelands afterward. But no one suffered 
any delusion about how the Communists would react to the volun- 
tary repatriation concept. The newly established governments of 
North Korea and the People's Republic of China were extremely sen- 
sitive to anything that even remotely challenged their legitimacy. 
This was especially true of the Communist Chinese government in 
Peking, which would undoubtedly recoil at the suggestion that some 
of its former soldiers be turned over to its mortal enemy, the rival 
Chinese Nationalist government on Taiwan. Clearly then, any 
attempt to assert voluntary repatriation would complicate the truce 
negotiations and prolong the war. 

Ultimately, it was the moral aspect of the question which decided 
President Harry S. Truman. In the name of allied amity, President 
Truman had dutifully repatriated Soviet citizens who had fallen into 
American hands after World War II. Much to his dismay, the Soviet 
government had mistreated, imprisoned, or even killed many of the 
returnees. Truman had no desire to repeat this heart-wrenching experi- 
ence if he could avoid it. In a war that was being fought in the name of 
national self-determination and human liberty, he found it uncon- 
scionable to forcibly return people to totalitarian societies. 
Consequently, after much soul searching, Truman made voluntary 
repatriation a central tenet of America's negotiating position in 
February 1952. 

Truman's decision met with cries of anger from the Communists, 
who accused the United States of violating the Geneva accords, 
despite the fact that they themselves routinely violated that treaty's 
most basic precepts regarding the treatment of prisoners. Undaunted, 
the United Nations proceeded to lay the groundwork for allowing anti- 
Communist prisoners to avoid involuntary repatriation. To begin with, 
it reclassified the more than 40,000 South Koreans being held in UN 
compounds as "civilian internees" rather than prisoners of war, a cate- 
gorization that would allow them to be eventually released in the 
South. Next, the United Nations began to screen all of its prisoners to 
identify those who wished to return to their homelands after the war 
and those who did not. The screening process aggravated tensions 
inside the POW camps, which were already the site of frequent alterca- 
tions between pro- and anti-Communist prisoners. Guided by 
Communist agents who had deliberately allowed themselves to be cap- 


Repatriation screening of Communist POWs, 1952 (National Archives) 

tured in order to infiltrate the camps, pro-Communist prisoners staged 
a series of increasingly violent uprisings during the spring of 1952, 
much to the embarrassment of UN officials. Nevertheless, the screen- 
ings continued, and in April 1952 UN officials revealed the results — 
only 70,000 of the 170,000 civil and military prisoners then held by 
the United Nations wished to return to North Korea and the People's 
Republic of China. 

The results of the initial survey stunned Communist and UN 
officials alike. While the Communists were willing to accept the 
reclassification of South Koreans who had served in their ranks as 
civilian internees, the sheer number of POWs who purportedly 
wished to avoid repatriation represented an affront that they dared 
not ignore. The report thus drove the Communists to dig in their 
heels even further on the repatriation question, and they refused to 
accept anything short of a complete return of all of their nationals to 
their control. Conversely, the survey also served to lock the United 
Nations into its position. Having asserted the principle of voluntary 
repatriation and demonstrated that a large number of individuals 
wished to take advantage of it, any retreat would represent a major 
political and moral defeat for the UN. With neither side willing to 
compromise, the armistice talks became hopelessly deadlocked over 
the POW question. 


To gain additional leverage on this issue, Communist authorities 
instructed their agents in the POW camps to step up their disruptive 
activities. Armed with a startling array of homemade weapons, pro- 
Communist elements deftly employed intimidation and violence to 
gain control of the interiors of many POW camps. Then, in early May, 
Communist prisoners scored a stunning coup when they succeeded in 
capturing Brig. Gen. Francis T. Dodd, the commandant of the UN's 
main POW camp on Koje-do. To achieve his release, American 
authorities pledged to suspend additional repatriation screenings in a 
poorly worded communique that seemed to substantiate Communist 
allegations that the UN had heretofore been mistreating prisoners. The 
episode humiliated the United Nations Command and handed 
Communist negotiators and propagandists alike a new weapon that 
they wielded with great zeal, both within the negotiating tent and on 
the larger stage of world public opinion. 

A Return to War: The Summer/Fall Campaigns, May-November 1952 

As positions at the negotiating table hardened, spring thaws offered 
the prospect for renewed military operations. Neither side, however, 
showed much enthusiasm for such undertakings. Since the tempo of the 
war had first begun to ebb after the initiation of truce talks in July 1951, 
both sides had expended enormous amounts of effort to solidify their 
frontline positions. The United Nations' main line consisted of a nearly 
unbroken line of bunkers, trenches, and artillery emplacements that 
stretched for over one hundred fifty miles from one coast of Korea to 
the other. Communist defenses were even more impressive. Because of 
their overall inferiority in firepower, the Chinese and North Koreans 
had taken extraordinary efforts to harden their positions. They bur- 
rowed deep into the sides of mountains, creating intricate warrens of 
tunnels and caves capable of housing entire battalions of infantry. 
Communist bunkers were often more solidly built than UN emplace- 
ments and were usually impervious to anything but a direct hit by bomb 
or shell. They were also generally better sited than UN bunkers and bet- 
ter concealed to avoid the prying eyes of hostile aviators, something 
UN soldiers did not have to worry about. Finally, the Communists built 
in greater depth than their adversaries, not just below ground, but on 
top of it, as they typically extended their fortifications up to twenty 
miles behind their front line. These emplacements were manned by 
over 900,000 men, approximately 200,000 more soldiers than the 
United Nations had under arms in Korea. Over the winter the 
Communists had also more than doubled the number of artillery pieces 
they had on the front lines, while the static nature of the war had like- 


wise permitted them to improve their overall supply situation, notwith- 
standing the best efforts of UN aviators to interdict Communist supply 
lines. Thus, by the spring of 1952 the UN faced a well-trained, battle- 
hardened, robust opponent who could not be easily defeated. 

Since both sides had already indicated their willingness to settle 
the conflict roughly along the current front lines, neither side had any 
incentive to risk a major offensive against the other. This was especial- 
ly true for the UN commanders, who unlike their totalitarian adver- 
saries always had to keep public opinion foremost in their minds. Too 
many friendly casualties could undermine support for the war at home 
and force the United Nations to acquiesce to Communist demands at 
the negotiating table. Consequently, General Mark W. Clark, who 
replaced General Ridgway as overall UN commander in mid- 1952, 
kept UN offensive operations to a minimum to avoid unnecessary loss- 
es. The Communists, for whom human casualties were of less conse- 
quence, likewise eschewed the big offensive in the belief that they 
could just as easily erode the UN's will to continue the struggle 
through the daily grind of trench warfare. Raids, patrols, bombard- 
ments, and limited objective attacks thus remained the order of the 
day, as both sides contented themselves with making light jabs at their 
adversary rather than attempting to land a knockout blow. 

The absence of grand offensives and sweeping movements 
notwithstanding, service at the front was just as dangerous in 1952 as 
it had been during the more fluid stages of the war. By June 
Communist guns were hurling over 6,800 shells a day at UN positions. 
During particularly hotly contested actions, Communist gunners occa- 
sionally fired as many as 24,000 rounds a day. UN artillerists repaid 
the compliment five-, ten-, and sometimes even twenty-fold, and still 
not a day went by when Communist and UN soldiers did not clash 
somewhere along the front line. 

One of the most common missions performed by UN infantrymen 
was the small raid for the purpose of capturing enemy prisoners for 
interrogation. These operations were usually launched at night and 
were extremely dangerous — indeed, relatively few succeeded in cap- 
turing any prisoners. At this level, the war was a very personal affair — 
it was man against man, rifle against grenade, fist against knife. Small- 
unit fights required a great deal of courage, and sometimes the bravest 
men were those who did not carry a rifle at all — the medics. One such 
man was Sgt. David B. Bleak, a medical aidman attached to the 40th 
Infantry Division's 223d Infantry. 

On 14 June 1952, Sergeant Bleak volunteered to accompany a 
patrol that was going out to capture enemy prisoners from a neighbor- 


ing hill. As the patrol approached its objective the enemy detected it 
and laid down an intense stream of automatic weapons and small-arms 
fire. After attending to several soldiers cut down in the initial barrage, 
Sergeant Bleak resumed advancing up the hill with the rest of the 
patrol. As he neared the crest, he came under fire from a small group 
of entrenched enemy soldiers. Without hesitation, he leapt into the 
trench and charged his assailants, killing two with his bare hands and a 
third with his trench knife. As he emerged from the emplacement, he 
saw a concussion grenade fall in front of a comrade and used his body 
to shield the man from the blast. He then proceeded to administer to 
the wounded, even after being struck by an enemy bullet. When the 
order came to pull back, Sergeant Bleak ignored his wound and picked 
up an incapacitated companion. As he moved down the hill with his 
heavy burden, two enemy soldiers bore down on him with fixed bayo- 
nets. Undaunted, Bleak grabbed his two assailants and smacked their 
heads together before resuming his way back down the mountain car- 
rying his wounded comrade. 

Sergeant Bleak's actions were so distinctive that June day that they 
won him one of the 131 Medals of Honor awarded during the Korean 
War. Yet a day did not go by in which some American soldier did not 
risk his life for his comrades on some nameless Korean hillside. This 
was particularly true for those soldiers assigned to the outpost line — a 
string of strongpoints several thousand yards to the front of the UN's 
main battle positions. The typical outpost consisted of a number of 
bunkers and interconnecting trenches ringed with barbed wire and 
mines perched precariously on the top of a barren, rocky hill. As the 
UN's most forward positions, the outposts acted as patrol bases and 
early warning stations. They also served as fortified outworks that con- 
trolled key terrain features overlooking UN lines. As such, they repre- 
sented the UN's first line of defense and were accorded great impor- 
tance by UN and Communist commanders alike. Not surprisingly, the 
outposts were the scenes of some of the most vicious fighting of the 
war. While most of these actions were on a small scale, some of the 
biggest battles of 1952 revolved around efforts either to establish, 
defend, or retake these outposts. 

Operation Counter provides one example of some of the larger 
outpost battles. During Counter the 45th Infantry Division sought to 
establish twelve new outposts on high ground overlooking the divi- 
sion's main battle line outside of Ch'orwon. The division easily seized 
eleven of its twelve objectives during a night assault on 6 June, with 
the twelfth falling into American hands six days later during a second- 
phase attack. But if capturing the new outposts had been relatively 


easy, holding them would not be. The Chinese reacted violently to the 
American initiative, and by the end of June the 45th Division had 
repulsed more than twenty Communist counterattacks on the newly 
established positions. Still the enemy came, and in mid- July his persis- 
tence paid off when Chinese troops succeeded in pushing elements of 
the 2d Infantry Division off one of these outposts — a key mountain 
nine miles west of Ch'orwon known as Old Baldy. Two companies 
from the 23d Infantry recaptured the hill after bitter hand-to-hand 
fighting on 1 August, but in mid-September the enemy again seized 
the hill, only to lose it several days later to a determined counterattack 
made by the 38th Infantry and a platoon of tanks. 

The savage, seesaw struggle atop Old Baldy was repeated in one 
way or another on countless mountain peaks and ridges during 1952, 
as the two sides struggled to gain ascendancy over the rugged no- 
man's-land that separated their respective battle lines. The heavy casu- 
alties incurred in these bitter outpost battles discouraged General 
Clark from authorizing any new offensives after Operation Counter. 
This defensive-mindedness rankled General Van Fleet, who believed 
that the high casualties the United Nations was experiencing were due 
in part to the UN's allowing the enemy to launch attacks when and 
where he wished. Van Fleet therefore pressed Clark to authorize addi- 
tional limited offensives that would allow UN forces to regain the ini- 
tiative from the enemy and compel him to fight on American terms. 

One potential candidate for such an operation was Triangle Hill, a 
mountain three miles north of Kumhwa. The United Nations was suf- 
fering heavy casualties in the area on account of the proximity of the 
opposing battle lines, which in some cases lay only 200 yards apart. 
Seizing Triangle Hill and its neighbor — Sniper Ridge — would force 
the enemy to fall back over 1,200 yards to the next viable defensive 
position, thereby strengthening UN dominance over the sector and 
reducing friendly casualties. Finally, an offensive would also serve a 
political purpose. On 8 October UN negotiators had walked out of the 
armistice talks out of frustration over being unable to reach an accom- 
modation with the enemy on the prisoner issue. With the talks now 
officially recessed and no hope in sight for a resolution of the conflict, 
a demonstration of UN resolve seemed in order. Van Fleet was confi- 
dent that, given sufficient support, two infantry battalions would be 
able to capture the Triangle Hill complex in just five days with about 
200 casualties. Swayed by Van Fleet's arguments, Clark agreed to 
authorize the attack. 

On 14 October, 280 artillery pieces and over 200 fighter-bomber 
sorties began pummeling Triangle Hill. Unfortunately, Communist 


Soldiers of Battery C, 936th Field Artillery Battalion, fire at 
Communist positions near Ch 'orwon; below, artillery may 
have dominated the battlefield, but ultimately it was infantry that 
captured and held ground. Here, Company F, 9th Infantry, advances 
in central Korea. (National Archives) 

defenses proved tougher than expected, and reinforcements had to be 
funneled in — first one battalion, then another, and another. When the 
smoke finally cleared several weeks later, two UN infantry divisions 
(the U.S. 7th and the ROK 2d) had suffered over 9,000 casualties in 
an ultimately futile attempt to capture Triangle Hill. Estimates of 
Chinese casualties exceeded 19,000 men, but the Communists had 
the manpower for such fights and did not flinch from flinging men 
into the breach to hold key terrain. The United Nations did not have 
such resources. 

The Third Korean Winter, December 1952— April 1953 

By the time the battles for Triangle Hill and Sniper Ridge had 
wound down in mid-November, both sides had begun the now familiar 
pattern of settling down for yet another winter in Korea. As tempera- 
tures dropped so too did the pace of combat. Still, shelling, sniping, 
and raiding remained habitual features of life at the front, as did patrol 
and guard duty, so that even the quietest of days usually posed some 
peril. For most frontline soldiers, home was a "hootchie," the name 
soldiers gave to the log and earth bunkers that were the mainstay of 
UN defenses in Korea. Built for the most part into the sides of hills, 
the typical hootchie housed from two to seven men. Each bunker was 
usually equipped with a single automatic weapon which could be fired 
at the enemy through above-ground firing ports. Inside, candles and 
lamps shed their pale light on the straw-matted floors and pinup- 
bedecked walls of the cramped, five-by-eight-foot areas that comprised 
a hootchie's living quarters. Oil, charcoal, or wood stoves provided 
heat, bunk beds made of logs and telephone wire offered respite, and 
boxes of extra ammunition and hand grenades gave comfort to the 
men for whom these humble abodes were home. However Spartan, the 
hootchie provided welcome shelter from the daily storms of bomb, 
bullet, rain, and snow that raged outside. 

Keeping up morale is difficult in any combat situation, but when 
the fighting devolves into a prolonged stalemate, it is particularly hard 
to maintain. Consequently, the Army developed an extensive system of 
personnel and unit rotations to combat soldier burnout and fatigue. 
Rotation began in a modest way at the small-unit level, where many 
companies established warm-up bunkers just behind the front lines. 
Every three or four days a soldier could expect a short respite of a few 
hours' duration back at the warm-up bunker. There he would be able to 
spend his time as he saw fit, reading, writing letters, washing clothes, or 
getting a haircut. When operations were not pressing, many companies 
also arranged to send a dozen or so men at a time somewhat farther to 


the rear for a 24-hour rest period. The ultimate rest and recuperation (R 
and R) program, however, was a five-day holiday in Japan that Eighth 
Army tried to arrange for every soldier on an annual basis. 

Eighth Army complemented these individual R and R activities 
with an extensive unit rotation program. Companies regularly rotated 
their constituent platoons between frontline and reserve duty. 
Similarly, battalions rotated their companies, regiments rotated their 
battalions, divisions rotated their regiments, and corps rotated their 
divisions, all to ensure that combat units periodically had a chance to 
rest, recoup, retrain, and absorb replacements. Last but not least, the 
Army maintained a massive individual replacement program in an 
effort to equalize as much as possible the burdens of military service 
during a limited war. 

In September 1951 the Army had introduced a point system that 
tried to take into account the nature of individual service when deter- 
mining eligibility for rotation home to the United States. According to 
this system, a soldier earned four points for every month he served in 
close combat, two points per month for rear-echelon duty in Korea, 
and one point for duty elsewhere in the Far East. Later, an additional 
category — divisional reserve status — was established at a rate of three 
points per month. The Army initially stated that enlisted men needed 
to earn forty-three points to be eligible for rotation back to the States, 
while officers required fifty-five points. In June 1952 the Army 
reduced these requirements to thirty-six points for enlisted men and 
thirty-seven points for officers. Earning the required number of points 
did not guarantee instant rotation; it only meant that the soldier in 
question was eligible to go home. Nevertheless, most soldiers did 
return home shortly after they met the requirement. 

The point system was a marvelous palliative to nagging spirits, as 
it gave every soldier a definite goal in an otherwise indefinite and 
seemingly goalless war. Every man knew that typical frontline duty 
would enable him to return home after about a year of service in 
Korea. The system also helped boost the spirits of loved ones back 
home. This was of some consequence in helping to maintain public 
support for what was an increasingly unpopular war. Yet for all of its 
psychological and political benefits, the program was not without its 
costs. The constant turnover generated by the policy — approximately 
20,000 to 30,000 men per month — was terribly inefficient from the 
vantage point of manpower administration and created tremendous 
strains on the Army's personnel and training systems. The program 
also hurt military proficiency by increasing personnel turbulence and 
by producing a continuous drain on skilled manpower. No sooner had 


a soldier become fully acclimatized to the physical, mental, and tech- 
nical demands of Korean combat than he was rotated home, only to be 
replaced by a green recruit who lacked these skills. This was true not 
only of the enlisted men, who were rushed to the front with little or no 
field training, but of the officers as well. Indeed, by the fall of 1952 
most junior officers with World War II combat experience had been 
rotated home and replaced by recent Reserve Officers' Training Corps 
graduates who had neither command nor combat experience. In a sin- 
ister twist, the system also reduced the effectiveness of many veteran 
soldiers, who became progressively more cautious and unreliable in 
combat as their eligibility for rotation neared. All of this meant that 
combat proficiency tended to stagnate in American units during the 
course of the war. This contrasted sharply with those Communist units 
that had avoided heavy casualties and managed to keep their morale 
intact. In these units battlefield acumen steadily increased as the war 
progressed thanks to the Communists' rather Draconian personnel 
policies. In the Red Army, victory or death were the only ways home. 

The disparity in combat experience between the typical American 
and Communist combat unit was just one factor that contributed to the 
Eighth Army's heavy reliance on air and artillery support. Political 
sensitivity at home to the war's mounting body count, the stagnant, 
siege-like nature of the war, and a natural desire on the part of com- 
manders to spare the lives of their men also contributed to the United 
Nations Command's preference for expending metal rather than blood. 
The Communists understood the terrible power of America's industrial 
might and attempted to compensate for it in a variety of ways. They 
steadily increased the size of their own artillery park until it exceeded 
that of the UN's, though they never managed to match the technical 
proficiency and ammunition reserves enjoyed by American artillerists. 
They dug deep, moved at night, and became masters of the arts of 
infiltration, deception, and surprise, all to minimize their vulnerability 
to the awesome destructive power wielded by the UN's air, land, and 
naval forces. Yet when push came to shove, the Communists also had 
the political will, the authoritarian control, and the manpower reserves 
to indulge in human wave attacks. American industrial might could 
and did obliterate many such attacks, but ultimately it was the infantry 
who held ground, and, when the Communists wanted a piece of terrain 
badly enough, they generally had the human wherewithal to take it. 

The Final Summer, May-July 1953 

The year 1953 found 768,000 UN soldiers facing over one million 
Communist troops along battle lines that had not materially changed 


for nearly two years. Spring thaws brought the customary increase in 
military activity, as Communist soldiers emerged from their winter 
dens to probe UN outposts. But the new year also brought with it some 
fresh developments on the political and diplomatic fronts — develop- 
ments that would dramatically alter the annual rites of spring at the 

In January 1953 Dwight D. Eisenhower succeeded Harry S. 
Truman as President of the United States. Eisenhower's ascension to 
the presidency created an air of uncertainty among Communist lead- 
ers. Though he had campaigned on a platform promising to end the 
war, some Communists feared that Eisenhower, a former five-star gen- 
eral whose Republican Party contained some rabidly hawkish ele- 
ments, might seek to end the war by winning it. 

Communist uncertainty about the future increased in March, when 
one of North Korea's preeminent patrons, Soviet leader Joseph V. 
Stalin, died. Stalin's death triggered a succession struggle inside the 
Soviet Union. Preoccupied with their own political affairs, Kremlin 
leaders sought to minimize Soviet involvement in potentially destabiliz- 
ing activities in the outside world. Chief among these was the war in 
Korea which, should it escalate, might lead to a direct conflict with the 
United States — a conflict which the inward-looking Soviets desperately 
wanted to avoid. Consequently, shortly after Stalin's death, Soviet offi- 
cials began to signal a new interest in seeing the Korean conflict put to 
rest. These sentiments were echoed by Mao, who likewise found that 
the conflict in Korea was detracting from his ability to address pressing 
domestic issues inside the newly formed People's Republic of China. 

The convergence of these events — the death of Stalin, the ascen- 
sion of Eisenhower, and the growing desire on the part of all sides to 
find a way out of a seemingly unending and unprofitable conflict — cre- 
ated an environment conducive to a settlement of the Korean imbroglio. 
On 26 April UN and Communist negotiators returned to the truce tent 
at P'anmunjom after a six-month hiatus. This time Communist negotia- 
tors expressed a willingness to allow prisoners of war to decide whether 
or not they wanted to return to their homelands. This key concession 
opened the door to fruitful negotiations. As a goodwill measure, both 
sides quickly agreed to an immediate exchange of sick and wounded 
prisoners. The exchange (dubbed Operation Little Switch) resulted in 
the repatriation of 684 UN and 6,670 Communist personnel. The two 
parties then sat down to the laborious task of hammering out all of the 
many technical details pertaining to the actual implementation of a 
cease-fire and a final, full exchange of prisoners. Even at this late date, 
American negotiators found that their Communist counterparts were 


determined to seek every possible advantage, and the talks dragged on, 
week after week, month after month. 

In June South Korean President Syngman Rhee, who opposed any 
resolution of the conflict that left North Korea in Communist hands, 
jarred negotiators on both sides when he unilaterally released about 
25,000 North Korean prisoners who had previously voiced a desire to 
remain in South Korea after the war. The release, which Rhee thinly 
disguised as a prison "breakout," angered American and Communist 
negotiators alike and temporarily disrupted the negotiations. Yet the 
act also helped the North Korean government save face, for by allow- 
ing many anti -Communist North Koreans to "escape," South Korea 
spared the North Korean government some of the embarrassment of 
having to admit that a large number of its captured soldiers did not 
want to return home. Thus, after some compulsory sputtering, the 
Communists chose to remain at the negotiating table, and the talks 
proceeded despite Rhee's attempts at disruption. 

One might have expected that the Communists' newfound interest 
in seeking a cessation of hostilities would have translated to inaction 
on the battlefield, especially as prospects for a final settlement became 
progressively more imminent. Unfortunately, such was not the case. 
Rather, the Communists chose to increase the tempo of the war. In part 
the heightened activity reflected the natural desire of Communist gen- 
erals to secure the best possible ground before the armistice went into 
effect. But the Communist offensives of the spring and summer of 
1953 also served a broader political purpose. Ever mindful of the 
wider propaganda aspects of the struggle between East and West, the 
Communists were determined to end the war on a positive note. A 
final offensive that seized additional territory would give the 
Communists the opportunity to portray themselves as victors whose 
martial prowess had finally compelled the United Nations to sue for 
peace. Such claims would also allow Communist propagandists to 
paper over some of the more bitter pills the Communists would have to 
swallow in the upcoming accords. 

Communist military activity had begun in early March with com- 
pany-size probes of various UN frontline positions. By mid-month the 
Chinese had escalated to battalion-size attacks. After a failed attempt 
to capture a UN hill outpost nicknamed "Little Gibraltar," the Chinese 
turned their gaze onto one of the central battlefields of the previous 
year — Old Baldy. On the evening of 23 March a Chinese battalion 
supported by mortar and artillery fire overran a Colombian company 
on Old Baldy. Repeated efforts by the 7th Infantry Division to regain 
the mountain failed to dislodge the Chinese, who were determined to 


7th Infantry Division trenches, July 1953 (National Archives) 

cling to the pulverized rock regardless of the cost. Although the UN 
had killed or wounded two to three Chinese for every UN soldier lost 
on Old Baldy, General Maxwell D. Taylor, who had recently replaced 
Van Fleet as Eighth Army commander, decided that the mountain was 
not worth additional UN lives, and on 30 March he suspended UN 
efforts to retake the hill. 

April brought a lull in Communist activities, but in May the front 
began to heat up as company and battalion attacks gave way to regi- 
mental-size assaults. Then in June, as the P'anmunjom negotiators sat 
down to draw up a final cease-fire line, the enemy launched a major, 
three-division offensive against the ROK II Corps in the vicinity of 
Kumsong. The Chinese succeeded in pushing the South Koreans back 
about three miles before the front restabilized, a significant advance 
after two years of stagnant trench warfare. Elsewhere UN forces large- 


ly succeeded in repulsing more limited Communist attacks, and by the 
end of June the intensity of the fighting had once again subsided. The 
Communists, however, were by no means done. After consolidating 
their gains and bringing up additional supplies and reinforcements, the 
Communists launched what was to be their biggest offensive operation 
since the spring of 1951. 

The offensive began on 6 July. After hammering South Korean 
lines south of the Iron Triangle, the Chinese turned their attention to 
Pork Chop Hill, a company-size 7th Division outpost that over the past 


year had seen about as much fighting as its neighboring peak, Old 
Baldy. Following a ferocious artillery and mortar barrage, wave after 
wave of Chinese infantrymen stormed up Pork Chop Hill. Backed by 
some heavy artillery fire of their own, the beleaguered defenders 
valiantly held on. Both sides funneled in reinforcements, with the 
Chinese committing a new battalion for every fresh company the 
Americans sent in. By 1 1 July General Taylor reluctantly decided to 
abandon Pork Chop Hill. As had been the case on Old Baldy, Taylor 
could not justify risking more lives for a hill that was of minimal 


strategic significance, especially given the fact that an armistice was 
just around the corner. 

Communist commanders operated under a different calculus — one 
that held potentially unnecessary losses of life to no account. Two days 
after Taylor withdrew from Pork Chop Hill, six Chinese divisions 
slammed into UN lines south of Kumsong. The ROK II Corps once 
again bore the brunt of the assault, falling back in confusion for eight 
miles before regrouping along the banks of the Kumsong River. UN 
counterattacks regained some of this lost ground, but there seemed lit- 
tle point in pressing the issue. On 20 July the negotiators reached an 
armistice agreement which they signed seven days later in a ceremony 
at P'anmunjom. At 2200 on 27 July 1953, an eery silence fell across 
the front. The Korean War was over. 


The last two months of the war had been some of the most horrific 
of the entire conflict. In less than sixty days Communist artillery had 
fired over 700,000 rounds at UN positions, while UN artillery had 
repaid the favor nearly sevenfold, sending over 4.7 million shells back 
at their tormentors. Approximately 100,000 Communist and nearly 
53,000 UN soldiers were killed, captured, or wounded during those 
final two months of combat. For their trouble the Communists had 
gained a few miles of mountainous terrain and some grist for their 
propaganda mills, but these gains could not mask the speciousness of 
Communist claims that they had won the war. 

In truth, the Korean War had been rather inconclusive. Under the 
leadership of the United States, the United Nations had successfully 
defended the sovereignty of a free and democratically elected govern- 
ment from totalitarianism while simultaneously demonstrating the 
ability of the international community to stand up effectively against 
aggression. On the other hand, UN action had been possible only 
because the Soviet Union had chosen to walk out of the UN Security 
Council in 1950, a costly miscalculation that the Soviets were unlikely 
to repeat in the future. Nor had the UN been able to obtain its opti- 
mistic goal of liberating North Korea. 

From the Communist viewpoint, the war likewise brought mixed 
results. Not only had the North Koreans failed to conquer the South, 
but they had actually suffered a net loss of 1,500 square miles of terri- 
tory as the price of their aggression. On the other hand, the 
Communists had successfully rebuffed UN attempts to liberate the 
North, while the conflict had propelled the young People's Republic of 


Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison, Jr., U.S. Army, and Lt. Gen. Nam II, 
North Korean People's Army, sign the armistice agreement on 
27 July 1953. (National Archives) 

China to a place of prominence on the world stage. Finally, for good or 
ill, the war had calcified Cold War animosities and fueled a wider 
geopolitical confrontation between East and West that would dominate 
world affairs for the next forty years. Thus the Korean conflict would 
have great repercussions, despite the fact that little territory changed 
hands as a result of it. 

Perhaps the greatest repercussions of the Korean conflict, howev- 
er, were the effects the war had on the human beings it touched — the 
soldiers it maimed, the civilians it displaced, and the families around 
the world who lost their sons and brothers, fathers and lovers to 
bomb, bullet, and shell. For the Korean War was as bloody as it was 
inconclusive. United Nations forces suffered over 559,000 casualties 
during the war, including approximately 94,000 dead. America's 
share of this bill totaled 36,516 dead and 103,284 wounded. The 
enemy had taken prisoner 7,245 Americans during the war. The UN 


estimated that Communist military casualties exceeded two million 
dead, wounded, and prisoners. Civilian losses were even more 
appalling — approximately one million South Korean and up to two 
million North Korean civilians either died, disappeared, or were 
injured during the course of the war, while millions more became 

While territorial losses and disproportionate casualties belied 
Communist claims of victory, no facet of the war exposed the bank- 
ruptcy of communism more clearly than the prisoner issue. In accor- 
dance with the final armistice agreement, both sides directly 
exchanged all prisoners who desired to return to their homelands. All 
told, 75,823 Communist and 12,773 UN personnel (including 3,597 
Americans) returned home from captivity under this arrangement 
(Operation Big Switch). Prisoners who had expressed a desire not to 
be repatriated were sent to a temporary camp at P'anmunjom. There 
government representatives were allowed to talk with their respective 
nationals under the impartial supervision of a five-member Neutral 
Nations Repatriation Commission. The interviews served to ensure 
that soldiers had not been coerced into refusing repatriation. They also 
gave the governments involved the opportunity to try and persuade 
their nationals to return home. When the interviews were over, each 
man was free to chose whether or not he wanted to return home. The 
numbers were revealing. Of the 359 UN personnel sent to the camp, 
ten decided to come home, two decided to go to neutral third coun- 
tries, and the remainder — 347 — decided to live among the 
Communists. Included among these were twenty-one Americans who 
chose to remain with their captors. In contrast, 22,604 Communist sol- 
diers initially chose not to be repatriated. After being processed by the 
Repatriation Commission, 628 relented and returned home. The rest — 
over 21,000 Chinese and North Koreans — chose to remain in the non- 
Communist world, with the Koreans going to South Korea and the 
Chinese to Nationalist-controlled Taiwan. When added to the roughly 
25,000 North Koreans Rhee had freed in June, this meant that over 
46,000 Communist soldiers had refused repatriation. No better testi- 
mony as to the merits of life under communism existed than this. 

The United States had taken a noble stand in asserting that pris- 
oners had a right not to return to societies they found objectionable, 
but the price of establishing this principle had been high. After the 
P'anmunjom negotiators had agreed to use the line of contact as a 
cease-fire line in November 1951, the repatriation question had been 
the only substantial issue over which the two sides remained at log- 
gerheads. By insisting on voluntary repatriation — a right that had 


heretofore not existed in international law — the United States had 
adopted a course that had prolonged the war by fifteen months, dur- 
ing which 125,000 United Nations and over 250,000 Communist sol- 
diers had become casualties. The 46,000 Chinese and North Koreans 
who escaped communism as a result of American opposition to 
forcible repatriation had truly been given a precious, if dearly 
bought, gift. 

Yet the nonrepatriates were not the only ones to have benefited 
from America's willingness to fight for principles in which it believed. 
In Korea, the real struggle had never been about the control of this hill 
or that hill. Rather, it had been about the principles of national self- 
determination and of freedom from oppression. By successfully 
defending the fledgling Republic of Korea, the American GI, together 
with his comrades in arms from South Korea and eighteen other 
nations, had secured the freedom of millions of South Korean civilians 
from Communist oppression. 

This was a great achievement, but it was not a job that, once done, 
could stand by itself. For while the armistice of 27 July 1953 ended the 
fighting in Korea, it had not truly ended the war. The armistice was 
just that — a temporary cease-fire — and not a treaty of peace. It reflect- 
ed the realization by all parties that neither side had either the will or 
the means to compel the other to bow to its political agenda. Hence the 
warring parties had agreed to disagree — to stop the shooting and to 
transfer the war from the battlefield to the diplomatic field. There the 
conflict has remained, despite sporadic incidents and border clashes, 
for half a century. 

The inability of the two sides to resolve their differences has 
meant that the two Koreas and their allies have had to remain on a 
war footing along the inter-Korean border ever since. Fifty years 
after the North Korean invasion, Communist and United Nations sol- 
diers still glare at each other across the demilitarized zone estab- 
lished in July 1953. Together with the South Koreans, U.S. Army 
troops continue to make up the bulk of the UN contingent in Korea. 
The burdens of protecting South Korea from the threat of renewed 
Communist aggression over the past half-century have been great for 
the United States. Billions of dollars have been spent and some addi- 
tional lives have been lost, the latter as a result of sporadic 
Communist violations of the cease-fire. Yet by standing unswerving- 
ly behind its commitments, the United States in general — and the 
millions of men and women of the United States armed forces who 
have served their country in Korea since 1953 in particular — has 
guaranteed that the sacrifices made by men like Private Pililaau, 


Sergeant Bleak, and thousands of other American fighting men dur- 
ing the Korean War were not made in vain. 

Cover: A 155 -mm. howitzer of Battery B, 75th Field Artillery Battalion, 
bombards Communist positions near Kumhwa. (National Archives) 


Further Readings 

Alexander, Bevin. Korea: The First War We Lost. New York: 

Hippocrene, 1986. 
Blair, Clay. The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-53. New 

York: Doubleday, 1987. 
Brune, Lester H., ed. The Korean War: Handbook of the Literature and 

Research. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. 
Edwards, Paul M., comp. The Korean War: An Annotated 

Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. 
Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness. New 

York: Macmillan, 1963. 
Gugeler, Russell A. Combat Actions in Korea. Washington, D.C.: U.S. 

Army Center of Military History, 1970. 
Hastings, Max. The Korean War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 


Hermes, Walter G. Truce Tent and Fighting Front. United States Army 
in the Korean War. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of 
Military History, 1988. 

Hinshaw, Arned. Heartbreak Ridge: Korea, 1951. New York: Praeger, 

Marshall, S. L. A. Pork Chop Hill. New York: Permabooks, 1959. 
Rees, David. Korea: The Limited War. New York: St. Martin's Press, 

Stueck, William. The Korean War: An International History. 

Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995. 
Westover, John G. Combat Support in Korea. Washington, D.C.: U.S. 

Army Center of Military History, 1987. 


CMH Pub 19-10 

Cover: A 155-mm. howitzer of Battery B, 75th Field Artillery Battalion, 
bombards Communist positions near Kumhwa. (National Archives) 

PIN : 078427-000